Ranji Trophy Super League / News

Ranji Trophy Super League 2009-10

Eye on Ranji - 2

Cricinfo staff

October 31, 2009

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The Ranji Trophy, India's premier domestic competition, is moving into its 76th year and it will be interesting to see whether this age-old competition manages to hold relevance in the era of the IPL and Champion League Twenty20. In a four-part preview series, Cricinfo profiles the Super League teams.

Mumbai


Ajinkya Rahane and Wasim Jaffer punch gloves during their match-winning partnership, Mumbai v Punjab, Ranji Trophy Super League, Mumbai, 4th day, December 21, 2008
Can Ajinkya Rahane and Wasim Jaffer, who stitched together four 100-plus partnerships last season, reprise their glorious form? © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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Mumbai have always entered the Ranji Trophy with one thought: that there is no point in coming second. It is not a cocky attitude; rather it is the confidence that comes from being the indisputable heavyweights with 38 Ranji titles. But in the 76th year of the competition, apart from the weight of history, the defending champions face a few stiff challenges.

Mumbai's coach Praveen Amre's biggest concern remains the unreliable middle order, which has proved brittle in the past. A long-time Mumbai loyalist and former captain Amol Muzumdar's decision to move to Assam might have raised eyebrows but the veteran batsman had consistently failed to provide any stability in the middle order after the opening pair Wasim Jaffer and Ajinkya Rahane had built solid platforms.

In the absence of Muzumdar, the onus now is on Rohit Sharma, who would like to reprise last season's form when he scored three centuries - including two in the final - and three half-centuries. If he fails, it would put enormous pressure on the likes of Abhishek Nayar. Mumbai have tried to push Rahane to No. 3 but Sahil Kukreja's failure as an opener hasn't solved the problem. It's surprising that Mumbai have managed to win the Ranji title twice in the last two years despite their handicaps.

To make matters more difficult, four of their key performers - Rohit, Rahane, Nayar and Dhawal Kulkarni - will be absent in the second game as they are part of the Board President's XI squad that will take on the Sri Lankans in Mumbai.

The other area of concern will be the absence of a proven legspinner who can take the ball away from the right-handers. With Sairaj Bahutule joining Muzumdar at Assam, the responsibility lies with the much persisted with Iqbal Abdulla, who embarrassingly can't even spin the ball consistently. The 17-year old Harmeet Singh, another left-armer, has been drafted to provide an alternative option.

Still, Mumbai have reasons to be optimistic. Players like Jaffer, Rohit, Rahane, Nayar and Kulkarni remain in the peripheral vision of the national selectors. In their quest to capture their own summits lies the fate of Mumbai maintaining its credo.

What they did last season

Barring the near-embarrassment against Saurashtra, Mumbai remained undefeated, winning five of their seven league games. The only time they looked likely to crumble was in Rajkot when Cheteshwar Pujara and Bhushan Chawan hit big hundreds as Saurasthra piled a mammoth 643 for 4. In reply Mumbai followed-on and at 89 for 5 the ignominy of defeat loomed large. But the spirited Ramesh Powar's four-hour long vigil extinguished Saurashtra's hopes. Mumbai gained revenge by knocking out Saurasthra in the semis, of course this time bolstered by the presence of Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan, who returned for semis and finals.

Men to watch

Jaffer and Rahane were the only two batsmen last season to cross the 1000-mark. Such was their dominance that pair combined to script four 100-plus partnerships. Both men have been playing for the same club Indian Oil Corporation and play in an aggressive mode. Another key player is the fast bowler Kulkarni, who ended up as the last season's highest wicket-taker (42 at 19 including five five-fors). For the record it was Kulkarni's debut season so the challenge this time, as Jaffer admitted, would be to repeat that effort to prove his worth.

Gujarat


Bhavik Thaker, South Zone v West Zone, Duleep Trophy final, Chennai, 1st day, February 5, 2009
Bhavik Thaker, who averaged 86.62 in the last season, is the man to watch out for Sivaraman Kitta / © K Sivaraman
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Gujarat might be one of the less-formidable teams on the Ranji circuit but they dazzled in the 2008-09 season, winning four out of seven games, before they were halted by Uttar Pradesh in the quarter-finals.

Bhavik Thaker starred by accumulating 693 runs at 86.62 and was well supported by Parthiv Patel, Nilesh Modi, and Niraj Patel. The bowling was led by the spin-seam combo of Mohnish Parmar, who took 41 wickets at 19.53, and Sidharth Trivedi, who grabbed 34 wickets at 19.08.

The biggest news this year, though, occurred beyond the boundary with the state chief minister Narendra Modi becoming the president of the association in September.

What they did last season

Gujarat cantered to victory against Saurashtra in their first game but suffered a reverse against Mumbai. What followed was a splendid run of form: They had Hyderabad following on but couldn't win it outright, took the first-innings lead against the powerful Delhi, thrashed Punjab by ten wickets, overwhelmed Rajasthan by seven wickets and thumped Orissa by an innings.

So far so good but unfortunately for them, their worst batting effort came in the quarter-final. They restricted Uttar Pradesh to 305 in the first innings but were shot out for 117. UP went on to score 375 in their second and Gujarat, chasing 564, ended up on 106 for 3.

Men to watch

Thaker, who averages 48.24, had a great last season where he amassed 893 runs with 86.62 with the help of three hundreds. Parthiv and Nilesh were the other centurions in the last season and it can be expected that these three will form the fulcrum of Gujarat's batting line-up. Trivedi, a medium pacer, did well last season and went on to earn laurels from his IPL captain Shane Warne. Parmar, a Murali clone, has continued to tantalize domestic batsmen around the country but there have been always murmurs about his action. It would be interesting to see how he goes this year.

Railways

You have to turn the clock back to the 2004-05 season when Railways last clinched the title. They stirringly came back from the brink of relegation to lift the crown, beating Punjab in Mohali. The loyalists - Sanjay Bangar, Yere Goud and Kulamani Parida - have stayed on from that famous triumph, and through thick and thin since, while the likes of Harvinder Singh and Raja Ali have called it a day. But a bigger worry is that many of the current crop, after performing well for their respective associations last season, have shown a reluctance to appear for their employers.

The non-availability of players employed with the Railways under the sports quota like Bhavik Thaker, Rajesh Bishnoi (Gujarat), Shivakant Shukla (Uttar Pradesh) and M Suresh (Andhra Pradesh) severely hampered the team's build-up to the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. Shukla scored 589 runs, including two centuries in the last season for Uttar Pradesh, while Bhavik Thaker amassed 830 runs at 75.45 and M Suresh had 32 wickets to his name from nine matches and without them Railways will need to be at the top of their game if they are to avoid relegation.

What they did last season

The return to the top flight last season did not bring with it the coveted results. Railways found themselves wallowing in the lower depths of Group B, just above Maharashtra and the relegated Andhra Pradesh. They began well, taking the bigger share of points in their drawn game against Karnataka. Their solitary win of the campaign soon arrived after another stalemate against Baroda, against Andhra. But on the wrong side of draws in the next three matches meant the twelve points were not going to be enough for a quarter-final berth or an improvement from the fifth place finish among the seven teams.

Men to watch

Left-handed opener Faiz Fazal, the former Vidarbha captain, was the highest run-getter last season with 484 runs that included an unbeaten 200 against Services. Performances in the Plate Division, though, in his own words, tend to get overlooked, and so the crossover to the Railways team happened this year. Having been extremely consistent through the last two seasons, Fazal also hit a crucial 58 against South Zone as Central Zone were crowned Deodhar Trophy champions.

A member of Railways' two Ranji Trophy triumphs, Tejinder Pal Singh, has many good memories of the time spent at the Karnail Singh Stadium. Now back on home ground after a two-year hiatus - he had signed up with the Chandigarh Lions in the ICL - things are happening fast for the middle-order batsman and Northern Railway employee. The most important being a one-year deal offered by the Mumbai Indians in the IPL. The vast experience of Goud, Bangar, and Murali Kartik will always be special as they aim to rekindle the past glory.

Himachal Pradesh


Himachal Pradesh's Ashok Thakur in his delivery stride, Himachal Pradesh v Rajasthan, Ranji Trophy Super League, Group A, 7th round, 2nd day, Dharamsala, December 26, 2007
Himachal Pradesh do have Sarandeep Singh and Vikramjeet Malik but Ashok Thakur is the man they would depend on to make the early blows © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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Himachal Pradesh are back in the Super League a year after they were relegated to the Plate League. They are here by virtue of having topped the Plate League with 19 points, winning three of five games. Their mammoth first-innings lead in the semi-final against Madhya Pradesh in Nagpur guaranteed their promotion to the top division, but for good measure Sarandeep Singh, along with Mohinder Sharma, bowled them to an emphatic win.

They were the best side in the Plate League last year for one simple reason - everyone contributed. The top order churned out runs and the bowlers, led by Vikramjeet Malik, Ashok Thakur and Sarandeep, performed admirably to ensure Himachal Pradesh lost just one game last season. They've been a flip-flopping side, shuffling back and forth between the two leagues, and need to prove they can be a consistent threat to top teams. Pooled together in a group that includes Mumbai and Tamil Nadu, who beat them in 2007, Himachal Pradesh cannot afford slip-ups like those that relegated them last time.

What they did last season

Himachal Pradesh began on a high, beating Haryana handsomely with five points thanks to Malik's 13 wickets. Then they thrashed Kerala and followed up with 480-run hiding of Jammu & Kashmir. A draw and defeat to Goa didn't dampen spirits too much because of their crushing semi-final success. .

Men to watch
HP's strength is their bowling attack. Leading them again will be the opening pair and Sarandeep, the former India offspinner, who took his 300th first-class wicket last season. Malik and Sarandeep, with 32 and 27 wickets last season, can always be counted on but it was the efforts of the left-arm seamer Thakur, with 29 scalps in that winning campaign, that boosted Himachal Pradesh. Up against tougher teams and in a tough group, how Thakur delivers in tandem with his new-ball partner and Sarandeep will be interesting to see. He's a veteran, being 32 and having played 43 matches, so don't expect him to be overawed by the competition.

The batting last season centered around Sangram Singh (632 runs) and Bhavin Thakkar (586 runs) but in the top division contributions will have to be more forthcoming from the likes of Ajay Mannu and Vinit Indulkar, both vital cogs in the set-up.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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